When the apostle Paul told us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col 3:16-17), it is the phrase “do all in the name of the Lord“ that governs the contents of the songs we need to be singing. First and foremost, songs must be in accordance with the Lord’s authority. They have to be accurate to the teachings of God found in New Testament Scripture.
Secondly, songs must have a purpose. They are to teach and admonish while at the same time directing the hearts of the singers to the Lord. Entertainment is not in the standard for songs that we sing.
Thirdly, the types of songs are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. A proper song of worship can be based on one of the poems in the Bible (a psalm), it can be a song based on the text of the Bible (a hymn), or it can teach spiritual principles found in the Bible (a spiritual song).
In the fourth place, the medium in which the songs are delivered must be by voice only. We are commanded to sing songs, not play music. Such makes sense given the other criteria. Songs are about the words, not the music. Music helps emphasize the words, sets the tone, and helps our memory, but it is the words being delivered that is the focus of what we sing.
Therefore, the determinant of whether a song is acceptable to God is whether it expresses what God requested. That is done by comparing what a song teaches to what the Scriptures teach. Even an accurate song can be delivered in an unacceptable way. Too many song leaders give little to no thought about what they are teaching at a service. Many congregations follow the lead of song leaders with little more than lip service. Without our hearts accompanying what we are doing, it is not pleasing to the Lord, given what God has said in the past.
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23-24).